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Bush Rates Fairly Well, Except on Environment

Presidency: At 100-day mark, he gets a 57% approval rating nationwide. That's comparable to evaluations of his father and predecessor Clinton. But the economy could take a toll.


President Bush marks his 100th day in office today with good grades from a public largely pleased with his job performance save for one area: his handling of the environment.

A Los Angeles Times Poll found that Americans overwhelmingly believe Bush cares more about the interests of business than he does about environmental protection. That sentiment is more strongly held in California.

But those feelings have done little to dent Bush's overall popularity. Nationally, Bush enjoys a 57%-33% approval rating, according to the survey completed last week, a time when the president observed the traditional 100-day plateau with a series of high-profile appearances pushing his tax cut and education reform plans.

In California, Bush's job approval marks were 54% positive to 32% negative.

His national standing--57% approval--is roughly comparable to Presidents Clinton and George Bush at this young stage of their administrations.

Clinton had approval ratings in the mid- to upper 50s in surveys taken in the spring of 1993, and Bush, the president's father, had a 58% approval rating in an April 1989 Gallup Poll. President Reagan enjoyed a 67% approval rating at this stage in 1981, according to Gallup, but at the time he was recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by a would-be assassin.

Bush may be faring well in part because of comparisons with his immediate predecessor. In a series of follow-up interviews with poll respondents, few mentioned specific Bush policies they liked. Rather, their good feelings about the president often were related to his personal conduct and perceived integrity--both of which were central to Bush's campaign pledge to "restore honor and dignity to the White House" in the post-Clinton era.

"He seems to be forthright and honest, at least to this point, considering the last president," said John Babashoff, 57, of Pasadena.

Anne, a 50-year-old South Bay woman who declined to give her last name, put it this way: "I'm not worried there are a lot of things going on in the White House that probably shouldn't be."

The president's popularity appears to be holding up despite increased concern about the country's direction, an attitudinal benchmark that typically spells difficulty for the incumbent.

Of those surveyed, 44% said the country was going in the right direction; 42% said the opposite. Last month, Americans were slightly more optimistic, with 49% saying things were generally headed the right way and 41% saying things were on the wrong track.

Over the last few weeks, however, there have been extensive reports of planned layoffs, disappointing corporate earnings and other signs of economic downturn. Still, Bush receives decent reviews for his handling of the economy, with 52% of those surveyed nationally approving and 32% disapproving.

In California, 48% approved of Bush's handling of the economy and 39% disapproved.

"He's going for tax breaks, really pushing for it," said Frank Schwartz, 56, an environmental technician in Bethlehem, Pa. "I don't think he'll get everything he wants, but he's trying, and he might get something."

Split on Environment

The president's biggest political problems have to do with the environment.

The country is virtually split concerning his job performance: 41% approved of his handling of environmental issues while 38% disapproved. In California, Oregon and Washington state, the sentiments were more negative; there was greater disapproval than approval of Bush's performance. In California, for example, 33% of respondents approved of the president's handling of environmental issues while 42% disapproved.

Further, 41% of Americans said Bush is doing too little to protect the environment, compared with 36% who said the president is doing the right amount.

Since taking office in January, Bush has moved to reverse a number of Clinton's environmental policies. Bush rejected the Kyoto, Japan, global warming treaty, suspended new arsenic standards for drinking water and reversed a campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

In the days before last weekend's observation of Earth Day, however, Bush upheld several environmental regulations, including restrictions on lead contamination and wetlands development.

But since then Bush has taken another turn, indicating he may strike down still more Clinton administration regulations--ones dealing with logging, national parks and reintroduction of grizzly bears to wilderness areas in Montana and Idaho.

Overall, 44% of those surveyed nationally said the country is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting the environment, while 43% said things were going the right way.

Perhaps more damaging for Bush is a negative image that appears to have set in: By 58% to 13%, Americans believe Bush puts business interests ahead of environmental protection.

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